Remembering Apollo 11by Logical Lizard on Jun. 26, 2009, under Astronomy & Space Program
In just three short summer weeks’ time it will be forty years since the Apollo 11 lunar module rocked the world with that one brief and startling transmission: “Houston. Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
To say I am a space program nut is like saying polar bears enjoy snow. In 1969, when I was a wee lad, I coerced my long-suffering parents into writing notes to the doddering, gin-soaked headmaster of my brutal English school, announcing that I would be staying at home to watch the lunar landings. All of them. To my eternal gratitude, my mother and father realized that two men landing a tiny spaceship on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbor was a feat of such enduring consequence that it made school temporarily irrelevant (to me: entirely irrelevant).
Everyone remembers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as the first humans who set foot on another world, but let’s not forget command module pilot Mike Collins who orbited the Moon in solitude while his buddies were making those famous first footprints. Collins went on to be an author, director of the National Air and Space Museum, and a great proponent of an ongoing vigorous American space program. His autobiography Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys is well worth a read.
I often wonder where we would be—literally—if we had continued space exploration with the same energy and dedication that President Kennedy inspired back in the early 1960s. So very much was achieved in such a short period of time: entirely new technologies devised and extraordinary devices conceived and constructed. Much of the equipment required for the Apollo missions simply did not exist and had to be invented. If the Apollo command and service modules made it to the Moon and back using a computer with a memory capacity of 72K, imagine what we could do with today’s technology, if such a thing was made a real priority.
Opponents of the space program complain that the money could have been better spent elsewhere, but they ignore the myriad advances and discoveries that led to all kinds of developments enjoyed today by the entire world. Not to mention the thousands of engineers and designers who were employed and—most importantly—the fact that humans journeyed out there, to the Moon, on the greatest adventure of all time.
For those of you who, like me, think back to the Apollo missions as one of the landmark achievements of the human race, make your own journey through time and space to Tucson’s Lunar and Planetary Lab special event at the Kuiper Space Sciences Building on Saturday, July 18, when like-minded people—including noted scientists and Apollo engineers—will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Eagle gently coming to rest on the lunar surface. Admission is free and there will also be lectures and films, along with displays of Moon rocks, meteorites, and Apollo memorabilia. I wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in China.